The Farriss brothers originally hailed from Perth (WA) but relocated to Sydney in 1971 when their father Denis was appointed to a senior management position with a national insurance company. Tim enrolled at Forest High school where he met fellow student Kirk Pengilly, the two guitar buddies formed a garage band called Guinness which gigged semi-professionally. Dennis and Jill Farriss were very supportive of their sons musical ambitions and the family garage at their Belrose home became their practice space, younger brothers Andrew and Jon were showing promise on keyboards and drums respectively and they too would form a garage band separate from their older brother, called Dr. Dolphin. The Farriss brothers below left to right, Jon, Tim and Andrew with baby sister Alison Due to a Kafkaesque bureaucratic arrangement, neither Andrew nor Jon could enrol at Forrest HS, they were required to enroll in the yet -to-be opened Davidson High School, which like Forrest HS was equidistant from the Farriss home, but as Davidson HS wasn’t yet open for business the two younger Farriss brothers had to attend Killarney Heights HS while wearing their Davidson HS school uniforms – a bureaucratic masterstroke that ensured the brothers would be targeted by bullies and seen as unwelcome outsiders.Michael Hutchence ( class photo Davidson HS, 1975, top row extreme left) arrived in Sydney from Hong Kong where his father Kelland ran an import/export business, he too was enrolled at Killarney Heights HS after attending a British private school, Beacon Hill, in Hong Kong. Like the younger Farriss brothers he wore his old school uniform, but he also had a pronounced English accent, and became an irresistible target for the boofhead bullies at Killarney. Andrew and his mates defended Michael in a confrontation in the schoolyard and ultimately the two boys bonded over a shared love of music, they would become one of the most successful songwriting combinations in Australian popular music history. Below left young Michael with parents Kelland and Patricia,and his younger brother Rhett at right with Patricia.Hutchence parents had separated and he relocated to Los Angeles with his mother who had been a makeup artist at the Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong Kong, and took up a similar position in Hollywood in 1975. Michael left his his younger brother Rhett behind with his father, so creating emotional trauma for both the boys, Michael attended Beverley Hills HS, the alma mater of Slash and Lenny Kravitz, but returned to Australia with his mother in 1976. He rejoined his Dr. Dolphin band mates, Andrew and Jon Farriss, and they recruited bass player Garry Beers who attended Forrest HS but up to that time had not been musically connected to either Tim or Kirk.1977 saw the merger of Guinness and Dr. Dolphin and the emergence of the Farriss Brothers Band, the first time the fledgling INXS would play together, their first practice piece was Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff and they started gigging around Avalon and Sydney’s northern beaches playing Steely Dan, Roxy Music, Little Feat and Deep Purple covers.
In 1978 the Farriss family relocated back to Perth with young Jon who had yet to complete his secondary schooling, remarkably the other five band members followed them there, in a show of solidarity and belief in their future as a group. From such commitment great bands are formed, Cold Chisel band members had all relocated to rural Armidale in NSW for a year to be near their keyboardist/songwriter Don Walker who was completing his post-graduate degree in quantum mechanics, prior to becoming the masters of pub rock in this country.In the late 1970’s Perth pubs were a covers band wasteland controlled by an oligopoly of promoters, the most dominant being one Des Jose (above right) who started out as the owner of the Top Hat night club and expanded his empire to include an extensive booking, touring, and events promotion agency. He banned original music in favor of current chart hits in the venues he controlled, but the band was rebellious and had original music that they wanted to market-test. They were effectively blackballed by Perth pubs with the exception of the more independently-minded licensees of the Broadway Tavern, Shenton Park Hotel (below left) and Steve’s Nedlands Hotel (below right), but they were often forced to travel vast distances to country gigs in Bunbury, Busselton, Geraldton and Goldsworthy to make ends meet.
Although Des Jose rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good story, in his memoir Rock From Behind the Black Curtain (Des Jose and Heather Campbell 2017), he conceded that INXS probably deserved to be able to play their original music, “ I booked them to go to Kalgoorlie…they wouldn’t go…they packed up and went to the eastern states, changed their name to INXS, played original material, six months later they’re the biggest band in the world, drawing thousands of people and making millions of dollars and I had egg all over my face.”Returning to Sydney the Farriss Brothers Band were, from left to right – Tim Farriss (guitar/vocals), Gary Garry Beers (bass guitar), Jon Farriss (drums) Michel Hutchence (lead vocals/lyricist), Andrew Farriss (keyboards/synth/composer), and Kirk Pengilly (guitar/sax/vocals); and they regularly performed at the Manly Vale, Royal Antler and Newport Arms hotels.They had honed their skills in Perth, Kirk Pengilly (above with Hutchence) had taught himself to play saxophone, Michael had refined his vocal phrasing, pitch and intonation, Andrew was mastering the synthesiser, they were finding their own unique groove – rock sound, they played funk when the pub scene demanded hard rock, they were moving to the beat of their own drum, confident and already looking overseas.The Farriss Brothers Band became INXS after Midnight Oil manager Gary Morris came up with the name after playing around with XTC, the name of an English band and IXL, a local jam maker, they would retain an unchanged lineup for over twenty years, and evolve into a harder funky- groove pub rock outfit who aspired to ultimate world domination. Their first record was released in 1980, called Simple Simon, it was a punky, vaguely Madness/Specials-influenced song which they performed on Simon Townsend’s Wonder World – below is a clip for the time capsule perhaps.
On November 22, 1997 Michael would be found dead hanging from his belt on the door of Room 524 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Double Bay, Sydney, it marked a premature end to one of the great front men of Australian rock, and one of Australia’s most successful international bands. Nearby there was a note that read “Would I be right to take it/ Wouldn’t be right laying down/ Sick of the dogs outside my window/ That’s right take a look/ New plan with a hook/ Stuck into me/ All the bitterness/ Has started showing / Five years no one hears.” Depressed, confused, lonely, bitter, and in a world of pain, a post-mortem examination found alcohol, cocaine, codeine, Prozac, Valium and sleeping pills in his body, did he write a suicide note or the lyrics for a song, we will never know?Michael’s partner Paula Yates would die of a heroin overdose in September 2000 (above with Michael), and sadly Peaches, her second daughter with Bob Geldorf, would also die of a heroin overdose in 2014.